Monday, December 22, 2014
Here are, in my opinion, the two most important words which may help explain the timing of the White House’s “new course” on Cuba: Torture Report. Yes, while the announcement was a very welcome, long overdue and not far reaching enough development, its timing is what makes me wonder most. It is likely no coincidence that Obama announced this historic policy correction within less than two weeks of the release of the US Senate report on CIA torture during its “global war on terror.”
As it became clear that the progressive left was not going to let it blow off and, instead, the calls for prosecution of Bush II & Co. were getting louder, particularly on the world stage, Obama and his advisers must have felt they had to go nuclear and bring something out with enough impact that would hopefully short-circuit the moral revulsion that has been ensuing in civil society. And thus comes Cuba to the rescue, the proverbial ace up the President's sleeve and perhaps the oldest, most indefensible and longest standing policy of the US government since WWII. In short, the timing of the policy shift on Cuba might be seen as a diversionary tactic aimed at deflecting the mounting outrage over the release of the US Senate Torture Report.
In this light, it is possible that despite the protestations of the usual suspects, Senators Menendez (NJ) and Rubio (FL), the incoming Republican congress might not end up fighting the White House on Cuba as much as they say they will as they may be getting some pressure from above to let this one go. Although Obama was supposedly working on this for quite some time, chances are that he would not have unveiled this important policy shift right before an incoming Republican congress without some kind of assurance from Republican quarters. It is the conjuncture of the damning Torture Report that perhaps made this policy shift finally a reality.
Given how long Obama had been working on this deal, it is clear that he intended it to be a major part of his legacy along with the ACA. And just like with the ACA – when he basically gave away the barn to get assurances from Big Pharma, Big Health and Big Insurance that they would not stand in the way – he must have sought assurance from high Republican echelons (Bush II?, Rove?) that they would not stand in the way of the Cuba deal. The perfect bargaining chip was the Torture Report: let the wolves do their work on Bush & Co. or throw them a bone to try to placate them.
Let me be clear on this. While Bush & Co. may be perfectly ok with what they did, they must also understand that the only thing that stands between them and the pitchforks is Obama. It is he who stands in the way of fulfilling US treaty and US law obligations to prosecute these egregious crimes by saying that we must look forward and not backward and thus it is he who is getting now the most pressure to drop this hypocritical and no longer tenable stance. Thus, it is not far fetched to think that after the Senate revelations he may have brokered some kind of deal with Bush II & Co. so that they could help him help them.
In regard to Cuba we must also be clear about what this policy shift really amounts to. What we are dealing with is simply a change in tactic, not strategy. Regime change is still the operative word in Washington. When Obama said that the embargo had failed it is because it failed to accomplish the intended goal which is the overthrow of the Cuban revolutionary government. Thus, in a example of realpolitik brinkmanship, Obama decided to try a different approach: substitute economic strangulation for economic persuasion – to put it euphemistically – and hopefully all the NGOs that come along with economic cooperation (see Ukraine).
In conclusion, it is likely that the Cuba announcement was a bone thrown not only to the US left, but at world civil society which has been consistently and overwhelmingly voting against the US embargo for decades. In particular, it is an acknowledgement or the growing isolation of the US in the Western hemisphere – the recent invitation of Cuba to the OAS being an example. And so the Faustian bargain may be that the US left and world civil and political society got Cuba in exchange for leaving Bush II & Co. alone, at least for a while, while Obama gets to look good on the world stage after the black eye of the Torture Report and yet another disappointing Climate Summit. Given that the Pope was in on the Cuban deal – it was another Pope also with cultural credentials who spearheaded the Warsaw Pact – it is clear that the brokering was done at the highest geopolitical levels. Will it work? Possibly. So far at least Obama managed to shift the media discourse and next week is Christmas and then new year. Happy holidays.